Snacking consumption has been on the rise since 2012, but the most notable growth has come in the past two years. The percentage of consumers snacking on a daily basis grew from 76% in 2014 to 83% in 2016, according to the Technomic “2016 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report.”

The increase in snacking creates an opportunity in foodservice to capture these high-margin occasions. Research shows consumers’ snacking needs vary—from meal replacement to a supplemental, indulgent treat to tide them over until the next meal.

Consumers are most likely to snack in the afternoon while waiting for dinner, and more than half (51%) say healthfulness is important when reaching for a snack. A variety of innovative, healthful snacks at foodservice could help drive snack purchases and increase business in the non-peak hours between lunch and dinner.

Operators can differentiate healthful snack offerings by featuring a greater variety of unique flavorings for nutritious snacks, such as chili lime-seasoned carrots or jalapeño-honey hummus, and by highlighting the added, nutritious aspects of snacks, such as protein-rich items.

Superfood snacks are impacting the foodservice space, with trending items like kale and acai bowls, which feature acai and toppings such as fresh fruit, seeds and nut butter. These items are beginning to infiltrate top chain restaurant menus, but their high prices could be cost-prohibitive for many top chain concepts. As a result, chains will likely simplify these items with a few key ingredient choices, such as bananas, strawberries and granola for acai bowls.

Frozen dessert chain Red Mango recently launched a line of smoothie bowls; they feature a thick smoothie with fruit and other toppings and come in three varieties: Power Berry Protein, Acai Berry Banana and Green Colada. Earlier this year, Chick-fil-A replaced its side of coleslaw with a selection of superfood sides, including a kale and chopped Broccolini salad with dried sour cherries and roasted nut blend in maple-vinaigrette dressing.

Although more consumers seek healthy snacks, more than a third of patrons (35%) also use snack occasions to treat themselves, providing operators a chance to promote indulgent, craveable items. For example, Wienerschnitzel recently rolled out loaded potato tots—including Chili Cheese Po’Taters with potato tots, chili and Cheddar; Blazin’ Po’Taters with chili-cheese potato tots topped with jalapeños and hot sauce; and Meat Lovers Po’Taters with chili-cheese potato tots topped with pepperoni and bacon.

Sweet snacks, like doughnuts and ice cream treats, also could serve as between-meal desserts. Indulgent items with health-halo attributes—such as natural, not processed or additive-free—can be more enticing to consumers. Sonic Drive-In recently launched a line of Creamery Shakes made with slow-churned, hand-mixed ice cream in flavors like Wildberry & Lavender with blackberries, California strawberries and lavender; Bourbon Brown Sugar with oak barrel-aged bourbon flavor; and Vanilla Bean, made with Madagascar vanilla beans.

Balancing healthful and indulgent snacks can be tricky, but offering a mix of these items will go a long way to meeting the diverse needs of consumers. With more consumers seeking snacks, foodservice providers would be wise to offer a variety of healthy, craveable snacks to capture these high-margin occasions.


Originally appeared in the June, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Snack Attack.